By Dave Friedman. Will Washam grew up in Cornelius, graduated from Appalachian State in 2011, and lives in Mooresville. Bob Nibarger is 68 years old. He lives part of the year in Cornelius and a portion in Sarasota, Fla. The desires and priorities of this classic Millennial and Baby Boomer are strikingly similar.
Countless Millennials and Boomers aim to spend less time in the car, and, instead, walk or ride a bike from their residence to work, or for social gatherings. Developers and communities are trying to satisfy them.
“The interesting thing is that location has become an amenity,” said Mike LaRuffa, president of Charlotte-based BSI Builder Services, a new home community marketing company. “A development might not have something, but if it is next to a hospital, walking paths and a movie theater, that is attractive.”
For Washam, his recent move from Cornelius to Mooresville halted a routine of biking a mile to work each day. Though he still rides to his job as a Senior Planner for the Town of Cornelius occasionally, it is the crowded roads, not the distance that requires him to take his car.
Part of Washam’s job with the town is helping to develop the Master Bike Plan, which will be introduced this month. It joins the Park & Greenway Master Plan, and Pedestrian Plan with a general objective of encouraging healthy living and increasing travel options.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to bike or walk to many things,” said Washam. “To be able to go to work, the grocery store, and restaurants without getting in the car. Personally, I just want to be able to ride my bike safely to more places.”
For some Millennials, the cost of living in an area that they can navigate without an automobile is prohibitive. However, it is leading to a trend away from established bedroom communities. Older communities built around a downtown are thriving.
“Places for $200,000 are selling well in Belmont and Mount Holly,” said LaRuffa. “Young people can be downtown, it’s a cute area, and there is lots there. You have a reverse commute, and there are a lot of amenities.”
“The biggest thing now for all ages is towns creating greenways. Towns love it because it gets people out of their cars. People love that you don’t have to make a reservation and it’s free. When people get up and out, that is great for their health.”
—Cornelius Commissioner Dr. Mike Miltich
Cornelius Town Commissioner Dr. Mike Miltch hears loud and clear the public’s desire for room to roam.
“The biggest thing now for all ages is towns creating greenways,” said Miltich. “Towns love it because it gets people out of their cars. People love that you don’t have to make a reservation and it’s free. When people get up and out, that is great for their health.”
In 2014 Kannapolis began using the slogan “Discover a Healthy Life.” John Cock, vice president of Alta Planning + Design in Davidson, says Kannapolis has backed up their motto with action.
“Bravo, Kannapolis,” he said, praising the city’s new covered bike parking facility at the Amtrak station next to downtown. “I would say amenities like these will be attractive not only to folks visiting Kannapolis by train or bike—and potentially bringing their bikes on the train, which is a great feature of the Piedmont Amtrak service—it is also a great option for those working in the research campus or living in nearby neighborhoods. This is a great example of implementation of recent multi-modal plans in Kannapolis,” he said.
This kind of investment helps put Kannapolis at the top of the list for people looking for a variety of transportation choices. “Kannapolis is committed to being a community that promotes active and healthy choices for individual health and community economic health,” said Cock.
The most cycling-friendly towns and neighborhoods are “that much more attractive to younger and older people,” according to Brian Jenest, founder of ColeJenest & Stone, the land planning and urban design firm behind the Billy Graham complex in Charlotte. The Davidson resident said cycling is a “very viable way” to create the street-level ambience that attracts new businesses and homebuyers alike.
“Any time you can create places that provide options for people to move around, whether bikes or walking, it is providing options to the car that are important,” he said.
It’s not just municipalities that are creating open spaces for strolls and various activities. Builders recognize the desires of a large swath of the population to be active without driving. Glen Goodwin of Taylor Morrison says it is evident in lots of their projects.
“Many of our existing and planned neighborhoods have set aside considerable areas for natural green space, forested conservation areas, pocket parks, ponds and lakes, streams, walking trails, fit trails, and more,” said Goodwin. “And the man-made amenities are more substantial with larger pools with separate splash areas, sport courts, clubhouses with fitness rooms, etc.”
At Bailey’s Glen, which is not at all what many think of when they hear the phrase “retirement community,” residents are looking for both space and activities. Outside Events Lifestyle Director Debbie Iannucci says that their facility, which offers no meal service or nursing assistance, but has planned trips for residents to see national parks on the west coast, and goes on kayaking excursions, is for those in their third quarter of life, not the fourth.
“This is a vacation away from their home, except it is home,” said Iannucci. “It’s a resort. People here are jamming in as much as they can. Our menu is huge and keeps residents physically active.”
That menu includes dance, bocce ball, personal trainers, swimming, a horseshoe park, driving range, biking, yoga, croquet, tennis, zumba, and five pickleball courts.
Yes, pickleball. The rapidly growing hybrid of tennis and racquetball can generate an economic impact of more than $3 million by hosting tournaments. Bob Nibarger spent 13 days at a tournament in Arizona, earned a silver medal at an event in Mobile, Ala. and has gone to Naples, Fla. as a player and official.
Nibarger was introduced to pickleball five years ago when he moved in to Bailey’s Glen. He tracks his daily steps on a Fitbit, and says by playing two-and-a-half or three hours of pickleball a day he exceeds his goal of 10,000 steps. He has no doubt that pickleball is an amenity that some people consider when moving.
“Exercise can be extremely boring,” said Nibarger. “Pickleball can be as intense or docile as you want it to be. In certain cases it can be very important for people. New courts are being built constantly.”
Sports like tennis are so 2016.
Indeed, Bailey’s Glen has converted a tennis court into four pickleball courts to keep up with demand. Interestingly, developers, boomers, and millennials generally agree that having golf courses in town is important, but within walking distance is not.
Realtors say the hottest neighborhoods are those connected to greenways and bike trails.
They’re among the most revered amenities in terms of choosing neighborhoods or homes, according to Kathleen Rose, founder of Davidson-based Rose & Associates Southeast in Davidson.
Communities that have more choices around walking and cycling—not just automobiles—are “the ones that enjoy greater success and greater value and greater economic success for the community and greater values for the property owners,” she said.